Several of the estimated 60 million people working in the garment and textile industry will have been involved in making the clothes you are wearing today. Can the fashion brands that sold you these clothes, tell you exactly who they are and what their working conditions are? And is there a need for the companies to be able to?
#whomademyclothes is the question that global initiative Fashion Revolution asks every year in Fashion Revolution week, the last week of April. The initiative is aimed at raising awareness of social sustainability issues in fashion supply chains and encouraging change. The global movement started after the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed on 24th April 2013, killing 1,134 people and injuring over 2,500. The factory made apparel for more than a dozen major international fashion brands. It was a wakeup call to the world, for both consumers and brands; if workplace safety was absent, what other human rights might have been violated? Were any of the workers considered to be in modern slavery? What is the true cost of fashion?
In 2016, 1,251 fashion brands responded to the 70,000 people who asked the question #whomademyclothes on social media. The message made 156 million impressions, reaching people all over the world, making them think about responsible sourcing of businesses and their own consumer behaviour.
3,500 garment producer voices were heard as they used the hashtag #imadeyourclothes. This included international brands such as Zara, G-Star and Massimo Dutti.They took the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to transparency.
Modern slavery risks in the garment industry
The garment industry has long, complex supply chains. For example, the overall stages in the supply chain of a cotton piece of clothing are cotton seed, cotton harvesting, ginning, spinning and weaving and the cut-make-trim stage. At all of these stages there is a risk of forced labour. In our report "Dressed to Kill" you can read more about the scale of modern slavery in the sector, the risks in the industry and how to mitigate them: download it for free here.
6 steps for companies to demonstrate their commitment to transparency
Change starts with transparency, as companies cannot change what they do not know about. Fashion Revolution recommends the following steps:
- Showcase positive examples of brand/producer relationships.
- Make one product transparent. Companies could do this through tools like Provenance, Caretrace or QR codes.
- Make at least one supply chain transparent. Companies could do this through tools like String , Sourcemap or Cotton Connect.
- Map out all your suppliers.
- Document this in an internal database, at least your company knows itself.
- Publish all your suppliers publicly.
Apart from for moral reasons, fashion companies also have legal incentives to mitigate the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains. Laws such as the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015), the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (2010), the US Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (2015) and the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law (2017) all require businesses to take steps to deter forced labour in their global supply chains. And don't forget the commercial reasons; consumer behaviour is influenced by brands' reputation, including its reputation regarding ethical sourcing. More and more organisations are assessing and benchmarking companies' performance to give consumers insight.
And the winning companies are…
The 2017 Ethical Fashion Report which was published last week by Baptist World Aid Australia, investigated the workers' rights policies of 106 clothing companies, representing 330 brands. The annual report sheds light on what the industry and individual companies are doing to address forced labour, child labour and exploitation. The 2017 report grades 106 companies, from A to F, on the strength of their labour rights management systems to mitigate against these risks in their supply chains.
Nine companies, including Patagonia, Cotton On, Adidas, Liminal Apparel, Inditex (which produces Zara), Nudie Jeans and Pacific Brands received an A grade, while ethical clothing companies Mighty Good Undies, Etiko and RREPP received an A+. Ten companies received the lowest grade, an F.
With regard to transparency, the report found the proportion of companies that were actively trying to trace their first tier suppliers had increased from 49% in 2013 to 81% in 2017, but only 7% knew where all their cotton was manufactured. While transparency remains a challenge in the industry, the report shows an improvement with the percentage of companies publishing full supplier lists going from 16% to 26% in the last year.